Analysis. The Supreme Court session resumes in October. Cases on the judges' docket could continue the judicial erosion of American democracy.

The US high court will decide on firearms, elections and consumer protection

In 2019, Texas resident Zackey Rahimi attacked his partner in an Arlington parking lot, dragged her into his car and threatened her with a weapon, then opened fire at a bystander who had seen him. After managing to escape, the woman went to court to get a restraining order against Rahimi, which was granted. Under federal law, a restraining order for domestic violence is one of the very few cases in which the constitutional right to own a firearm under the Second Amendment can be restricted.

Nevertheless, Rahimi might now become the “poster child” for a further expansion of that “right,” in a blow against women who are victims of domestic violence: in late June, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of United States v. Rahimi during its next session, which will start in October.

After the restraining order, the Texas man didn’t prove very willing to comply with the court order: according to the government’s brief for the case, in the space of just two years Rahimi racked up an unenviable laundry list of violations: first he threatened another woman with a gun; later on, he fired shots into a man’s house with an AR-15 after the latter had “started talking ‘trash’” about him on social media; then, the next day, he shot at a man with whom he had been involved in a car accident, “fled, returned to the scene, fired more shots at the other car, and fled again.” A few weeks later, after a truck flashed its headlights at him on the highway, he “slammed his brakes, cut across the highway, followed the truck off an exit, and fired multiple shots at another car that had been traveling behind the truck.” The spree of violent incidents ended with a fit of rage at a fast-food restaurant: after a friend’s credit card was declined, Rahimi “pulled out a gun and fired multiple shots in the air.”

Charged with violating the order requiring him not to possess any firearms – to say nothing about shooting them at passers-by – he tried to defend himself by claiming that his constitutional rights had been violated. When his Second Amendment defense was rejected, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six years in prison.

However, the same appeals court that had upheld his conviction reviewed his case just after the Supreme Court issued its June 2022 ruling overturning the New York state law that limited when it was permissible for citizens to carry concealed weapons. In that ruling, Justice Clarence Thomas had written that “The government must … justify its regulation by demonstrating that it is consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.” That decision was enough for the conservative Fifth Circuit Court that had taken up Rahimi’s case to rule that “our ancestors would never have accepted” the Domestic Violence Restraining Orders Act, and thus strike it down as unconstitutional in its jurisdiction, which includes Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana.

It is now up to the nine Supreme Court justices, or rather the conservative supermajority among them, to decide whether this decision will stand and apply to all of the United States.

At this point, among the cases that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear in its upcoming session there are no striking “blockbusters” such as the one that allowed it to deny the right to abortion or strike down affirmative action programs for college admissions. But the devil is in the details, and some cases on the judges’ docket could continue the judicial erosion of American democracy.

One of these – Consumer Financial Protection Bureau v. Community Financial Services Association of America – could deal a death blow to a federal agency established in the Obama era (by the post-Great Recession Dodd-Frank Act) to protect consumers from the “predatory practices” of banks, brokers and debt collection companies.

And Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo could broaden the power of the courts over the interpretation of specialist issues over which specialized federal agencies usually have more say (e.g., the Environment Protection Agency on environmental issues).

A case of racist gerrymandering is once again before the court, from South Carolina, where election maps were drawn by Republicans to dilute the vote of African-American citizens in a Charleston County district. “A textbook racial gerrymander and discriminatory map,” wrote the American Civil Liberties Union. It remains to be seen what the ultra-reactionary Supreme Court will make of it.

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